The period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day provides us with many, though not necessarily good, excuses to avoid physical exercise. There are meals to prepare, gifts to wrap, people to visit, homemade candy to eat, and errands to run. It's been very easy for me to fall victim to the mentality of: "It's just a busy time of year. I'll get back in my exercise routine after the first of the year." Fortunately, this year I have a "yoga room" in my house. The yoga mat is always out, the room is always clear of clutter, the music is always in the CD player, and there is a glass cross that always sits on the window sill. Every time I walk by the room, it says in its silent barrenness, "I'm waiting for you."
Early in the Advent season this year, I thankfully heeded that voice and carved time out of most days to go to the mat and gaze upon the cross. Not surprisingly, as I moved from one yoga pose to another, my mind began to wander. I started to think not so much about what I needed to do during the holidays but more about prayer concerns in my two congregations, the community, and beyond. One day, an instrumental arrangement of "Sweet Hour of Prayer," began playing.
Duh, Darian! I said to myself. Turn this into a sweet hour of prayer!
As I held plank pose, using arm and core strength to hold myself up, I prayed for those who needed strength. As I stood on one foot in tree pose, I prayed for those who lacked balance in their relationships. As I swan-dove into a forward fold, only to discover my oh-so-tight hamstrings would not let me go very far, I prayed that God would help me to let go of everything holding me back. As I bent my front knee into Warrior II pose, pressing my back foot firmly into the mat, I prayed that the Church (and specifically the two churches I serve) would move forward in their calling while remaining grounded in the Word. The hour passed quickly as the Holy Spirit led me in the physical exercise as well as the prayers.
Whether we practice yoga, do simple stretches, walk, run, ride a bicycle, or lift weights at the gym, what would happen if we made these hours of physical activity an opportunity for spiritual Communion? This combination draws us out of physical and spiritual lethargy that can easily take over our lives, not just during the holiday season but throughout the year. For those of us who are physically challenged or live with chronic pain, we can seek out with a doctor's guidance simple,easy physical activities (2-pound dumbbells are an excellent investment!) to keep us moving.
Choose the physical activity that works best for you, then invite the Holy Spirit to become a part of the practice you choose. Perhaps the first time you do so, all you'll be able to say are prayers of gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving for God's goodness. As I've shared in a previous post, perhaps you'll find yourself releasing pent-up tears that God desires to wipe from your face. Perhaps you'll just feel God's presence but not really know how to pray for the requests on your mind. If so, just hold them before your yoga Partner, your walking Buddy, your cycling Companion, as you move.
Friends, let us not wait until January 1 to restart or to begin our physical or spiritual exercise routines. Begin today by not separating the two. Listen to the voice that desires our physical and spiritual wholeness. When we choose to make this hour one of prayer with spirit, soul, and body, we find ourselves longing for the "returns" of such sweet hours of prayer.
all good things to each of you,